Enthralling finish in prospect at Chelmsford
Stumps Essex 201 (Foster 88*, Stevens 6-60) and 198 for 6 (Foster 12*, Phillips 5*, Stevens 3-62) v Kent 247 (Northeast 112, Chambers 3-51) and 238 (van Jaarseveld 63, Topley 5-46)
An absorbing conclusion is in prospect to the County Championship Division Two match between with Essex and Kent at Chelmsford. The hosts bowled out Kent for 238 in their second innings and reached the close on 198 for 6, needing a further 87 runs to win the season opener.
England players Alastair Cook and Ravi Bopara both played themselves in and seemed set to make the significant contributions that the home side were seeking, before both fell in the 30s. Ashes hero Cook had timed the ball sweetly to move to 31 with six boundaries, putting on 60 with Billy Godleman before he became the first wicket to fall when trapped leg before wicket on the back foot by James Tredwell.
Bopara treated the crowd to trademark drives on both sides of the wicket and looked in menacing form until, with his score on 39 out of 161, he too was adjudged lbw when undone by a ball from Darren Stevens that kept low.
The talking point of the day was the performance of latest Essex 'find' Reece Topley, who took five wickets for 46 runs in the Kent second innings to finish with match figures of 7 for 114 on his Championship debut. The 17-year-old 6ft 7in fast bowler, who attends the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook, is taking examinations next month - and he posed a number of probing questions for a succession of Kent batsmen in this contest.
Gaining significant swing, Topley claimed experienced internationals Geraint Jones and James Tredwell to add to those of Rob Key and Joe Denly on the previous day. His performance allowed the hosts to dismiss Kent for 238 after the visitors had started the day 146 for 3.
Nightwatchman Robbie Joseph fell for a duck to David Masters before Topley claimed the first of his three wickets on the day, having Jones picked up by Matt Walker at second slip.
Martin van Jaarsveld, who had completed a 70-ball half-century which included eight boundaries, was joined by Stevens in a sixth-wicket stand worth 40 runs - although Topley had South African-born van Jaarsveld guessing on a number of occasions as he swung the ball back into the right-hander.
It was Maurice Chambers though who unshipped van Jaarsveld. finding the edge as the batsman reached forward on 63 to be caught by wicketkeeper James Foster. That was the start of a mini-collapse for the visitors - who lost three wickets in 13 deliveries as they capitulated to 200 for 8, leaving Topley to wrap up the innings up with the final two wickets either side of lunch.
Requiring 285 for victory, Essex made good initial progress before Tredwell removed Cook and then Jaik Mickleburgh in quick succession to leave the home side 66 for 2. Godleman, who recorded a 76-ball half-century, and Bopara tipped the scales back towards the hosts with a 57-run partnership before Godleman was dismissed for 58.
However, Kent improved their own prospects when Stevens struck in successive overs having Walker caught at second slip and then Bopara. Stevens collected his third wicket of the innings when he had Tom Westley caught at first slip for 17, before Tim Phillips joined Foster to play out the remaining five overs of the day.